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A kind word for the deficit

Who would have thought it? A kind word for a federal deficit from Chairman Volcker of the Federal Reserve Board.

It came in a sparsely reported passage from his big speech in Boston last week. Mr. Volcker said that the size of the current deficit - approaching 5 percent of the gross national product - was hardly welcome. But it ''does provide support and impetus to the economy at a time of cyclical weakness.''

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In other words, the mean old deficit is giving America a helping hand when, as the chairman said, high unemployment is cutting revenues and increasing spending.

Mr. Volcker, of course, wisely warned of future deficits remaining close to present high levels even as the recession passes. Then there could be a clash between financing the deficits and the rising business investment to bolster growth in productivity.

But today's deficit makes things look worse than they are. Or, in Mr. Volcker's terms, it overstates the ''structural'' problems in the budget.

No, he didn't go so far as to say it's only money.

But he remained in the judicious company of those who consider each deficit on its merits and avoid crying wolf when one is not actually at the door.

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